EXCLUSIVE: Suffolk at centre of multi million alleged cover-up of government PPE scandal

Thousands of containers of PPE have been stored across sites close to Felixstowe in Suffolk for the past year. A new addition, near Eye, has been added with containers alleged to contain PPE.

government ppe scandal
Mountain of containers near Eye, Suffolk, with James Kemball truck leaving the site. Photo by Elana Katz

In an exclusive report, East Anglia Bylines can reveal that Suffolk is at the centre of a huge alleged government cover-up of the covid PPE scandal. As well as wasting billions of pounds on buying unwanted or unusable material, it has cost the taxpayers of this country one million pounds a day in storage.

The contracts were entered into between February and November 2020. They were to supply PPE (personal protective equipment) to the NHS and other essential users.

The PPE now stored across Suffolk arrived through Felixstowe Dock, but in such quantities that it had to be moved and is now stored in several sites around Suffolk. Known sites are Ipswich West Bank Terminal, Mendlesham, Melton and probably Eye, though it is believed there may be others around the county.

Empty containers may be filled with government PPE

In at least two cases when storage contracts were being negotiated, it is claimed that the containers were alleged to be empty, which is not the case.

Information suggests that over 10,000 shipping containers have been dumped in sites around the county. The figure is so huge that there is beginning to be a shortage of containers. The shipping lines who own them are being paid for their use, but with so many out of commission for a long period, the shortage is impacting on supply lines. So they want their containers back.

The material stored in Suffolk seems to be part of a massive PPE contract of over £300 million awarded to Uniserve, who have major facilities at Felixstowe. It is believed that the storage is managed by James Kemball Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Uniserve.

Details of the Uniserve contract were first established by the Good Law Project. The contract shows that Felixstowe Dock was charging £30 million per month for storage, a figure it is believed is still being paid for other sites and continued use of the containers.

Kemball truck leaving Eye
Uniserve’s James Kemball Ltd truck leaving the latest storage site near Eye. Photo by Elana Katz.

Government PPE scandal

The government bought PPE from many sources. No checks were made on the type or the quality of the PPE bought so hurriedly, so much of it has proved to be unusable. It is not known whether that stored in Suffolk meets standards required by the NHS and other essential users, but it is known that it has a limited shelf life. In some cases it has been abandoned for more than a year, so some of the material may anyway be close to its use-by date.

But from the outset there were concerns expressed. Multi-million pound contracts were awarded to companies which appeared to have no experience in providing health supplies. One went to a small pest control company. Another went to a publican friend of Matt Hancock, then health secretary, in his West Suffolk constituency.

Red flags for corruption

Transparency International identified 73 contracts awarded by the UK government, worth more than £3.7 billion, which “raise one or more red flags for possible corruption”.

The organisation goes onto say: “Our analysis of the available evidence is consistent with there being systemic bias towards those with connections to the party of government in Westminster, despite continued claims by the Government to the contrary.”

Video of hundreds of containers filling a deep site in Melton, Suffolk

It is not known what is intended for the abandoned PPE, and all information suggests that the government has no idea either. This story is based on many conversations and emails, with those involved in shipping and haulage and others. The impression from industry insiders is that the material was bought in a panic, and then stored in a panic.

When problems with the contracts and the quality of the material became clear, the Department of Health needed to find a way of ‘losing’ the consignments, if only temporarily. But that temporary solution was never thought through, since there is no easy way of disposing of hundreds of thousands of tons of PPE.

Hence many thousands of shipping containers are distributed around Suffolk, with nobody knowing what to do with them.

There will be more on this story at EAB in the coming days.

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